Imagine feeding yourself and your family nutritious, nourishing, delicious homemade meals for a whole month or more – without having to cook! Doesn’t that sound fantastic? It can be done – you just need to take some time to prepare. I’ve been happy when I have just a week’s worth of homemade meals in the freezer but one of my goals is to improve my own meal planning so that my family can eat better even though our kids have activities right around dinner time several days a week. The post below inspired me so I hope it will help you too with the practical aspects of planning homemade meals to freeze in advance of your postpartum period (or just to plan for any busy time in your life!).
Thank you, Cheryl Kindred, for letting me share your postpartum meal planning journey! Be sure to check out Cheryl’s blog for more inspiration and lots of delicious recipes and join the Healthy Meal Planning group on Facebook for more encouragement and ideas.
I’m expecting a second little one in June. I’m so excited for so many things, and one of those things is a freezer full of flavorful, home cooked, lovingly made meals. I think it is essential that every family put as much prep into planning for their postpartum weeks as for their birth or the baby’s room, or maybe even more! I spent a ton of energy and time planning last time for postpartum, and will do even more next time. Perhaps this is my version of nesting, because although I did a lot of organizing… I sure wasn’t cleaning the baseboards or ceiling fans last time!
I’m about halfway along, so I am in the stage of finalizing my planning. I’m collecting recipes we already love and choosing new ones to try. I’m making lists of what I want made, and approximately when I’ll be making it. Since postpartum planning is something often skimped on in our culture, I’m sharing my thought process to inspire and educate others. These meals would be great to do as part of a freezer swap, or to take along to a family with a new baby or to someone undergoing a significant hardship or change. Or they would be great for your own postpartum planning (or even just to make busy days a little easier).
How I’m choosing meals:
Since this is my second, I know what meals I will crave… the foods that made my body feel so good after my son was born. Most of my list is inspired from that. And since it will be summer, I’ll be making plenty of meal kits for going straight onto the grill, especially steaks and kabobs. I can already imagine sitting by the pool, watching Noah and daddy splash around or play on the deck while I nurse the baby under the umbrella and dinner cooks. While recovering from birth and in early breastfeeding, my body just loves steaks/red meat (strange for me as a former longtime vegetarian!). I also loved soups and sandwiches, so there will be plenty of that. One dish meals, hearty enough not to drip off the spoon will be on my list. They are great while nursing or babywearing. Plenty of one-handed snacks like beef jerky, granola bars, muffins, quiche slices and more will be tidily tucked in the nooks of my freezer and pantry.
I’m also taking advice from my tribe, the mothers I know who may have ideas and advice I had not thought of. My husband is an important part of the selection, so that our entire family can be well nourished. For him I’ll have a lot of chicken pot pies, farmhouse chicken or turkey casserole, chili etc. Real man food! He isn’t much for soups and sandwiches, so I’ll plan for those as lunch foods or as school day foods, when it is just Noah and I eating dinner at home. My toddler will eat most anything, and loves most of my favorites just as much as I do.
Planning the cooking:
We have a big giant upright deep freezer. This is fantastic, but you can do it without. A good 4-6 weeks worth of meals will fit in a side by side or above fridge freezer if packaged efficiently. We got our upright deep freezer on discount as the back had a big dent (it’s against a wall anyhow!). If you have the space and can get your hands on a good deal, I think it is a great asset to postpartum meal planning and food storage in general. Besides having more storage space, in a deep freezer things tend to last up to twice as long without having any ill effects like loss of flavor or freezer burn. This means I can start my postpartum cooking earlier and make more meals (can you see now how this is my version of nesting???).
Soups and stews and sauces I can do up to 8 months before we plan to eat them, so that is where I’ll start, probably in mid to late February. Beginning in March, I’ll start on the few casseroles we have planned to make. In April, I’ll add in doing snacks, smoothie bags, sides, desserts etc. In May, I’ll start with making breakfasts, quiche slices, marinated/ready to cook items and pizzas.
I plan on making 2-4 things to freeze per week as our budget allows. I try to fit in some inexpensive dishes with more expensive ones. Ingredients for chicken soup or quiche, for example, cost less than half as much as ingredients for lamb stew or marinated skirt steak. I make sure not to plan more than 2 expensive-to-cook meals per week. I will likely plan a few weeks where we eat more simply (sandwiches, soups etc) so that we can stock up on extra steaks and other things. It all has to balance out, and quite easily will.
Freezing, Storing, Packing and Organizing:
When things are in the freezer, I’ll organize them in a variety of ways… In my freezer I will have an area for dinners frozen in family sized portions. Casseroles will be labeled and then stacked. Dinners with multiple frozen components will be stored in plastic grocery bags (somehow we do occasionally bring them home, although I try not to!) with labels (so for example chili packaged in glassware or jars and cornbread wrapped in parchment and a ziplock will be packaged separately then bagged together). I sure hope that made sense! Stand alone items (snacks, desserts, soups etc) will be in a different area. I’ll label my freezer shelves and spaces with stickers designating areas for each type of item. Convenience items (smoothie bags and such) get tucked into the door shelves.
I’m also planning to try out a system to keep inventory. We’re notorious for forgetting to erase what was eaten from the magnetic white board I currently use… but perhaps labeling individual shelves will help, so that is what I’ll do. I may even go so far as to make a menu… but I’m better at choosing what I want as I go… so we will see! I know that everything will be used eventually, so this part doesn’t matter too much.
As for packaging, we store most foods in glass. I have a huge collection of jars and glass food storage. Baking dishes will be another way to store foods. I try to not buy disposable products, but I’m making an exception because I know that this will be an invaluable resource this summer, and anything I can “flash freeze” will be wrapped in parchment then packaged in ziplocks. Casseroles I’m going to try to do in the OAMC (once a month cooking) tradition…. Where you freeze them in a baking dish or casserole dish that has been *well* lined with aluminum foil, then once frozen you wrap it and have your baking dish back and ready to use again! You then wrap it in plastic wrap and stack in freezer, being sure to label it well with not only what meal it is, but what dish it fits into as well. I’m going to use the new foil I have noticed advertised that is parchment paper on one side and foil on the other. I try to keep toxins (plastics, aluminum, teflon, nonstick etc) out of our food and that is important to me, so I will likely end up adding to my glassware collection a fair amount. Canning jars are my favorite way to store single serve soups and more. The huge quart sized jars can even store saucy meals with their fabulous wide-mouth lids.
Most of these recipes are tried and true favorites, but I’ll haven’t tried all of these meals yet. I’m pretty good at knowing what about a recipe to change to suit us, and how well it will turn out…. but I do have the rare flop! One of my favorite things about the internet is recipe reviews, so that helps me to know what changes to make to suit us. I went through this with Rob, and figured out the game plan. It may sound like a whole lot, but I counted everything out and I’ll only need to freeze 4-6 items per week, which is easily doable. The payoff will be beyond worth it!
Soups, Stews and Sauces (begin in mid February)
- Autumn Chicken Immunity Boosting Soup, recipe inspired by whole foods recipes and my friend Jessica. Make sure it has plenty of chicken.
- Addictive Red Lentil Curry
- Beef Tips in Gravey with Peas and Carrots (serve with noodles or plain)
- Black Bean Soup, recipe received from a food swap many moons ago.
- Cabbage Soup with Shredded Chicken
- Carrot Soup with Honey and Nutmeg, from NYMSCCB (Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cook Book… one of my favorite books!).
- Cheesy Vegetable Chowder double or triple recipe
- Chicken Cacciatore with mushrooms and plenty of Shredded Veggies. I LOVE this dish. Rob eats it with pasta usually, but it’s so yummy alone or with steamed, buttery broccoli. Make it with bone on, skinless chicken thighs for the most flavor.
- Chicken Curry Soup with Spinach and Red Peppers
- Chicken Stew with Garlic Herb Dumplings I’ll be freezing this sans dumplings in half-size portions. The dumpling mix I will make up and store in a glass container on the counter, just adding milk and butter when ready to mix them up and cook.
- Chili…. oh… how soon I need to make this! YUM! I could eat this chili weekly or more often, and usually do.
- Creamy Potato and Leek soup, recipe adapted from NYMSCCB. Freeze in jars and have with turkey sandwiches or pesto spread on toast.
- The EASIEST French Onion Soup, adapted from NYMSCCB,
- Ground Beef Minestrone Soup
- Harvest Vegetable Soup (with Shredded Chicken and without). This was one of the first recipes I created, I think I was about 15. I have been making it often, ever since. The vegetarian version of this, with plenty of parmesan cheese on top is my favorite.
- Lamb Stew with root veggies in a tomato wine broth
- Matzoball Soup, frozen in single serve jars
- Meat Sauce for Pasta
- Pannag Chicken or Shrimp Curry
- Pesto, frozen in small jars. Serve with grilled or sautéed chicken and pasta, or on toasted bread with a soup.
- Ratatouille in the crock pot, frozen in jars. Serve with pasta covered in mozzarella and parm, or as the filling of a sandwich on a big crusty roll, also with melted mozzarella. For a meat meal, eat as a side with grilled chicken breast cutlets. I may also use part of this recipe for a veggie lasagna to also freeze! Changes I’ll try for the recipe include adding just a bit of balsamic vinegar and some red wine, plenty of fresh basil leaves, honey rather than sugar, and I will omit the red pepper flakes since my husband (and some nurslings) prefer less spice). I’ll cook it on low and check it around 5 hours in, as a 7-9 hour cook time seems too long to me.
- Roasted Tomato Soup, made from fresh picked tomatoes
- Roasted Red Pepper and Fish Chowder– double or triple recipe.
- Salsa Chili (from NYMSCCB) I’ll make this from homemade salsa
- Sloppy Joe Filling. I make this with ground beef, lentils, and plenty of shredded beets, sweet potato and carrots. We just LOVE this meal, it feels so warm and comforting. This is a grown up version of the childhood fave, and just fills a heart up. I’m thinking of freezing this in muffin tins then transferring it to a zip top bag. I think this might give me the perfect meal sized portion to heat up on the stove or in the oven, right from frozen! I’ll freeze rolls with it so its easy and ready to go. This is also a fab topping for baked potatoes too.
- Slow Cooked Broccoli Soup with Garlic and Olive oil
- SouleMama’s Tomato Sauce
- White Chicken Chili
Casseroles and Meal Components: (start prepping in March)
- Calzones and Stromboli (my husband doesn’t like ricotta, so we call his strombollis even though we bake them anyhow.
- Cheesy Pasta Bake- this might be the LEAST healthy meal on my list…. but I know that even “junky” food has its place. I make it with sprouted or brown rice pasta, and there is plenty of broccoli in it to (leftover steamed with butter is perfect).
- Chicken Enchiladas
- Chicken Pot Pie (or Turkey Pot Pie)
- Cilantro Lime Chicken Taco (filling component)
- Farmhouse Chicken or Turkey Casserole (my husband LOVES this meal!)
- Lasagna Roll ups, with spinach/ricotta. I’ll do these as the roll-ups since Rob won’t like these filling choices. Flash Frozen then put into ziplock bags. It’ll be so easy to just pull out a few, pop into the oven and have lunch.Lasagna probably I will do a few types of layered lasagna, all versions Rob will enjoy, frozen in molds to fit smaller glass baking dishes to serve 4.
- Meatballs- to eat with pasta sauce for sandwiches, dinners etc.
- Mini Meatloaves
- Shredded Chicken in bags
- Shepherd’s pie with ground beef, carrots, peas, green beans and topped with mashed potatoes.
Snacks, Smoothie Bags, Sides, Quiche Slices, Desserts etc: (start prepping in April)
- Almond clusters I may add peanut too…. that is how the TN brand ones are. I’ll edit the recipe a bit and they’ll be hidden in the pantry, to ration out conservatively.
- Apricot chocolate nut clusters, recipe on all recipes
- Beetroot Burgers
- Beef Jerky (marinated 30-60 minutes in honey, worshtershire and tamari) This I won’t need to freeze, of course, just dehydrate and store. The trick will be HIDING it from my husband and little one so there is some left for a hungry nursing mama!
- Chicken Nuggets, made with thighs and possibly baked, not fried.
- Carrot Cake Pancakes – my goal is to freeze 60 of these. Noah will eat one for breakfast, I’ll eat two, so him and I will have 20 days worth of a fairly healthy breakfast option. I’ll probably cook up a bit of beef bacon when we serve it as well, for extra protein/fats. They reheat perfectly in the toaster oven on 325 for about 5-10 minutes.
- Creamsicle pops, made with coconut and fresh orange juice. Hey, it’ll be summer and hot out, and we love dessert! Made from the orange Popsicle Ice Cream recipe in The Perfect Scoop
- Dried Fruits- watermelon, apple slices, banana chips
- Fruit Leathers- strawberry/apple/pear/etc
- French Toast Sticks- made with a batter of pumpkin, and the custard egg base. Cook and flash freeze, reheat in toaster.
- fudgepops, made with coconut milk, cream, honey and cocoa
- Ice Cream… I would love to make a few types of homemade, full fat ice cream. What a perfect late night mama treat, and when I make it I eat a moderate amount and I know it’s as healthy as ice cream can be! All recipes from the best (and only) ice cream cookbook I have) Chocolate p. 26, Zabaglione p. 56, cheese cake p. 62, dark chocolate raspberry swirl p. 92, Roasted Banana p. 72, white Chocolate p 33, Super Lemon p 85, toasted coconut p 96, mint chocolate chip p. 99, and some type of toffee crunch! I don’t know that I’ll actually end up with 10 flavors of ice cream…. but YUM!!! Thinking about it is almost as good.
- Lactation cookie Balls, ready to bake
- Mashed Potatoes
- Muffins, many types: pumpkin spice and blueberry from Aviva Romm’s postpartum book, and Morning Glory Muffins and Savory Cheese, Cranberry and Herb Mini Muffins also banana bread with walnuts and chocolate chips as muffins…
- Orange Black Beans with Cumin, from NYMSCCB
- Quesadillas-fully cooked and frozen in wedges, loaded with cheese and sauteed veggies. flash freeze
- Quiche many flavors! mini quishe or slices frozen wrapped in parchment and foil for quick snacks from the toaster oven. I may do some crustless as well. smoked salmon asparagus with goat cheese, broccoli cheddar spinach and more.
- Roti (I may just buy these, but making them is lovely and fun. It’ll depend on my energy level.)
- Shredded Beef for Tacos
- Smoothie Bags, many varieties. my goal is to freeze 20 bags/jars.
- Spinach and Cheese Nuggets
- Sweet Potato Fries (maybe some other squash fries too)
- Zucchini bread recipe from WFM:
Marinated/Ready to Cook Meals, Pizzas, Breakfasts: (start prepping in May)
- Asian Stir-Fry with prefrozen veggies and marinade. I’m planning to do versions of this with chicken, beef strips and shrimp.
- Balsamic Braised Short Ribs
- “Best Ever” Steak Marinade
- Breakfast Sandwiches in my version I’ll scramble the eggs with cream and a bit of sauteed veggies. And sprouted grain english muffins.
- Burgers, ready to grill- some buffalo and lamb burgers as well
- Crockpot Chicken Curry, recipe from same blog post as the healthy mama barbecue below. I may merge this with my favorite yellow curry chicken recipe since that one is woefully sad on veggie content
- Cholent (assembled and frozen, ready to dump into crock pot). This is a traditional jewish shabbos stew and something so comforting to eat and enjoy!
- Fig balsamic Chicken
- Fish Tacos (freeze marinate, chopped fish)
- Flank Steak Fajitas – slow cooker meal
- Healthy Mama barbeque Chicken (I love the name of this recipe… how fab for postpartum cooking! And the fact that there are TONS of veggies in it as well. recipe:
- Herbes de Provence Chicken we’ll grill this and make some grilled veggies to go along with it.
- Idaho Sunrise Breakfast Muffins. I’ve made these before, and do either a veggie cheese or a meat version. I like to call my version “breakfast Bird Nests” They only last about 6 weeks in the freezer, so I’ll probably make 2 muffin tins worth. I’ll eat two or three for a breakfast. Noah will eat one.
- Lemon Garlic Chicken– ready to cook in slow cooker. I’ll butcher the chicken before cooking as we prefer eating it that way. Omit Rosemary.
- Meatballs in tomato wine sauce recipe from NYMSCCB, made with my own homemade meatballs.
- Mediterranean marinade balsamic, lemon, olive oil, basil, oregano, salt, pepper
- Moriah’s Chicken and Roasted Veggies just the chicken in marinade will go in the freezer, then I’ll assemble with fresh veggies before roasting.
- Orange Hoisin Chicken recipe from NYMSCCB, frozen and ready to put in slow cooker.
- Red Wine short ribs of Beef (ready to cook in bag) page 398 from NYMSCCB
- Salsa Chicken, recipe from NYMSCCB
- Soaked Pizza Crust Make 8 mini pizzas, completely ready to cook.
- Teriyaki Chicken (marinated and ready to grill or bake) the marinade is too simple for a recipe even: 1/4 c. sake, 2 tbsp mirin, 4 tsp tamari, 1-2 tsp honey and marinades 1-1.5lbs of chicken.
Did you freeze meals for your postpartum period? Does this list inspire you to plan your family’s meals more efficiently?